America’s national parks are incredibly diverse, providing all kinds of recreational opportunities for families. Whether you’re seeking solitude, adventure, or just a fabulous view, there’s a national park with your name on it. There are 59 national parks across the nation, and every single one is incredible, but which ones are best for families with kids? Our favorites are based on a few significant features — ease of access, proximity to lodging and amenities, easy hiking, and pure kid-appeal. These are our top four picks for family-friendly national parks.
Joshua Tree National Park: California
Located in southern California, Joshua Tree National Park has a whole lot of natural beauty, cool history, and fun places to explore for kids. Joshua trees dominate the western half of the park, making you feel like you’ve landed on another planet, or perhaps within the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. This part of the park is also strewn with boulders of varying sizes (some as big as mountains). Kids will love watching the serious rock climbers at Intersection Rock, but there’s also plenty of opportunities for them to do some rock hopping of their own.
Kids love: Jumbo Rocks Campground and the Barker Dam Trail
Something to consider: Potable water can only be found at the visitor centers, so be sure to fill up when you enter the park.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park: North Dakota
Prairie dog villages, wild horses, and endless, burnished hills await you in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’s the only national park in North Dakota, and it pays homage to America’s greatest conservation president, who was also a cowboy of epic proportions. Kids will love driving the loop road in the south unit and checking out the wildlife, which is impossible not to spot. Many of the trails in the park are easy enough for small children.
Kids love: The Cowboy Hall of Fame and Medora Musical in Medora, North Dakota, just outside the park.
Something to consider: The north and south units of the park are 70 miles apart, so choose one to explore or be prepared for a road trip.
Yellowstone National Park: Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
Yellowstone may just be the world’s most famous national park, attracting millions of visitors annually. The park is huge, covering 3,400 square miles in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Most visitors stick close to the paved roads, which is perfectly fine — wildlife is easy to spot from your vehicle, and iconic sites like Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, and Mammoth Hot Springs are easy to get to from the main roads. Traffic is definitely a concern, though, so consider staying inside the park and touring the sites either early or late in the day.
Kids love: Incredible ranger-led programs all year long.
Something to consider: More than half of Yellowstone’s four million annual visitors come in July or August. Beat the crowds and traffic with a trip in the off season.
Olympic National Park: Washington
Olympic National Park encompasses several distinct ecosystems on the Olympic peninsula of Washington state. Temperate rainforest, rugged seashore, and subalpine forest and meadows come together across 1,441 square miles. Not only is this a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s also an international biosphere reserve.Trees in the forest grow more than 300 feet tall, glacier covered peaks hide rocky ridges leading to meadows of wildflowers, and when you get to the coast, you’ll discover the longest stretch of undeveloped shoreline in the lower 48 states. There are four lodges and 14 campground located within the park.
Kids love: Playing and swimming in Sol Duc Hot Springs.
Something to consider: There is no main road traversing the park. Visitors travel along the perimeter and then take spur roads to specific destinations. Also, the Olympic peninsula is the wettest place in the continental US, so don’t forget to plan accordingly.